Back in Action
By Shelley Flannery, Photo by Jesse Rieser
If you sprain your left knee, you can still get around by
shifting your weight to your right knee. If you break your right
arm, you can steer a car with your left. And if you cut your thumb,
you can still dial your cell phone (however awkwardly) with your
index finger. While these situations may be frustrating, none is
severe enough to keep you from going about your daily life.
Back pain, however, is another story. You can't rely on any
other body part to "limp" on when your back is throbbing, which is
probably why back pain is the second most common reason for missed
work behind the common cold. The good news is that back pain can be
alleviated, meaning you can go back to using your sick days for
what they were intended-playing hooky.
"Massage is quite effective for treating lower back pain," says
Kristen Sykora, LMT, a spokeswoman for the American Massage Therapy
Association. "It's the MVP in the healthcare arena because it's
more of a hands-on treatment."
A 2003 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found
that massage therapy reduced the need for painkillers by 36 percent
and was found to be more effective than other therapies, including
acupuncture and spinal modification, according to the American
Massage Therapy Association. In fact, massage therapy is one of the
most commonly used treatments for back pain today.
How Does It Work?
If you've ever had a massage, you know it makes you feel good. But
how can it relieve back pain and help prevent it from recurring?
Its strategy is multifaceted and includes:
Muscles. Massage relaxes the muscle, making it less tense and
stiff. It also addresses specific problem areas and works out
circulation. Massage promotes blood flow to the area, providing
nourishment to the muscles.
- Endorphin release. Massage calms the nerves that send pain
signals to the brain and causes endorphins, the body's feel-good
hormone, to be released.
Improves flexibility. Massage restores flexibility to muscles
that are tense due to stress and inactivity.
Working It Out
Massage therapy may make your back quit aching, but don't expect
one session to cure all of your pain. "Your back pain didn't start
overnight," Sykora says, "so don't expect it to be cured overnight
How long it takes to achieve long-term relief is dependent upon
such factors as the nature of your back pain, your lifestyle, your
activity level and your posture. "It's best for chronic back pain
sufferers to be on a maintenance plan for massage-once every three
to four weeks," Sykora says. And do the homework your therapist
gives you, she adds. Correct your posture and adjust your work
space and work habits. And don't rule out combining massage with
other therapies, such as exercise.
Physical activity in combination with deep tissue
massage is highly successful. Stronger back muscles will
provide more support to the spine. If you're overweight, losing
those extra pounds can ease the load on your back. Yoga, Pilates,
tai chi or even simple stretches you do at home will help
strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility. Just be sure to
talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
And what would feel better after a moderate workout than to get
a massage? More than $25 billion was spent in 2003 by people in
search of back pain relief. Why not spend your money on something
that works and is enjoyable? As Sykora says, massage therapy is
really important for people to consider because it's an effective
but conservative approach.